Bob Hartley last coached in the NHL during the 2007-08 season when he was fired by the Atlanta Thrashers after an 0-6 start. (Getty Images)
Bob Hartley has never been a man who lacks self-confidence. That’s a good thing, because in his new role as coach of the middling, fading Calgary Flames, he’s going to need all of it and then some.
Hartley was announced Thursday as Calgary’s replacement for Brent Sutter. Prior to that, he had been rumored to be a leading candidate to coach the Montreal Canadiens, but his close relationship with Flames GM Jay Feaster – the two men worked together in the 1990s when Hartley coached the Hershey Bears to an American League championship in 1997 and Feaster was the GM – led to him leaving his job coaching in the Swiss League to work in Alberta.
On the bright side, the 51-year-old won a Stanley Cup as bench boss of the Colorado Avalanche in 2001 and also led the Atlanta Thrashers to their first playoff appearance in franchise history. He knows his Xs and Os and can motivate with the best of them, at least in his early time with any particular team. He is no unproven coaching commodity.
Unfortunately for the Hawkesbury, Ont., native he arrives at a time in Flames history when the franchise is at a competitive crossroads. The organization has been fooling itself for a couple years now in terms of being a bona fide Cup contender and should be conducting a fire sale before a full-on rebuild begins in earnest. So if Hartley’s presence in any way suggests Feaster is going to hang on to veteran assets Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff for another season – and more than likely another failed attempt simply at making the playoffs – Calgary fans should be irate.
Nothing Hartley says or does is going to make that Flames team deeper and younger. Nothing any coach says or does will turn back the hands of time on Iginla or Kiprusoff. No Herb Brooks-like speech or tactical adjustment will turn Jay Bouwmeester into something better than the mid-tier, overpaid blueliner he obviously is.
However, if Hartley has joined the Flames to set a standard for a new era in Calgary, then that is a positive. He holds players accountable and is much more communicative than Sutter (although famous mime Marcel Marceau was more communicative as well). Hartley is a winner – the Avs made it at least to the Western Conference final in each of his first four seasons in Colorado – and he will not cater to any player egos.
Still, we’ll have to wait and see what kind of team Hartley inherits when the Flames step on the ice in the fall. If it’s essentially the same roster that exists right now, the expectations and pressure placed on him will be unfair and end in another disappointing season. But if it really is the dawn of a new day in Calgary, Hartley is as good a choice as any to set a better tone.
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